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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Siege of Fort William by the insurgents


The advantages obtained by the insurgents in their expedition into Athole and Sutherland, and by the reduction of Fort Augustus, were in some degree balanced by the loss of the Prince Charles, formerly the Hazard sloop of war, and the capture of some treasure and warlike stores which she had brought from France for the use of Charles's army; and by the abandonment of the siege of Fort William.

Early in November the Hazard, a vessel mounting sixteen guns and some swivels, with a crew of 80 men, had anchored at Ferriden, opposite Montrose. The object of her commander, in taking this station, was to prevent the insurgents from taking possession of the town. At this time a party of Lord Ogilvey's men, under the command of Captain David Ferrier, held Brechin, of which Ferrier had been appointed deputy-governor by the prince before his march into England; and to hinder the approach of this party toward Montrose, a fire was kept up at intervals for three days and nights from the Hazard, the only effect of which was to annoy the inhabitants exceedingly. To put an end to such a state of matters, Ferrier formed the design of capturing the vessel by raising a battery at the entrance of the river, and thereby to prevent her getting out to sea. In pursuance of this plan he entered Montrose one night, and possessed himself of the island on the south side of the town, opposite to where the Hazzard lay. Next day the Hazzard attempted to dislodge the party from the isle by her fire, but without success. In the afternoon of the following day a vessel carrying French colours was observed at sea, standing in towards the river; this turned out to be a transport from France, with a party of Lord John Drummond's regiment, some Irish piquets, and six pieces of artillery. On observing this vessel, the Hazard fired a gun to leeward as a decoy; but, upon a signal from the party on the island, the commander of the French vessel ran her on shore out of reach of the Hazard's guns. The crew then landed the six guns, and a fire was opened from them upon the Hazard next morning from both sides of the river, on each of which three of the pieces had been planted. With the exception, however, of having some of her rigging cut, she sustained no damage. Before the arrival of Ferrier's party, Captain Hill, the commander of the Hazard, had taken four six-pounders, and two four-pounders, belonging to the town, which he had put on board a vessel in the harbour; but, by oversight, he left this vessel at the quay, and the consequence was, that she fell into the hands of the insurgents. This circumstance was fatal to the Hazard; for, finding that the guns lately landed were not sufficient to force the Hazard to surrender, Captain Ferrier carried the four six-pounders to the Dial hill, from which he fired upon her; and her commander, seeing escape hopeless, after hoisting his flag of truce, and making an ineffectual attempt for permission to leave the river, surrendered.

This vessel, being a first-rate sailor, was a great acquisition to the insurgents, and had made several trips to France. On the present occasion the Prince Charles as the Hazard was now named by the Highlanders, was returning from France, having on board several officers and some privates, a supply of arms and ammunition, and a quantity of gold coin, amounting to between 12,000 and 13,000 sterling. She observed, on the 24th of March, off the Banffshire coast, by the Sheetness man-of-war, which immediately gave chase. The Prince Charles taking a north-west course, endeavoured to escape by entering the Pentland frith; but the Sheerness followed her into that dangerous gulf; and after a running fight, in which the Price Charles is said to have lost 36 men, the latter ran ashore on the sands of Melness, on the west side of Tongue bay, near the house of Lord Reay, on the 25th of March. The officers, soldiers, and crew, immediately landed with the treasure, which was contained in small boxes, and carried it to the house of William Mackay of Melness, where it remained during the night. The dispersion of Lord Loundon's forces, an event which was considered at the time highly favourable to the interests of Charles in the north, turned out, in the present instance, to be very prejudicial. Part of them, as has been stated, had, upon their disposition, retired into that wild and barren region called Lord Reay's country; and when the Prince Charles arrived in Tongue bay, there was a party of these troops quartered in the neighbourhood. On receiving notice of the landing, Lord Reay sent some persons in a boat across the bay, to ascertain the strength of the party that had disembarked; and, on being informed that it was not numerous, it was concerted between him and some of Lord Loudon's officers, to attack the party next morning with such forces as they could collect. Early next morning the French, conducted by George Mackay, younger of Melness, who had undertaken to lead them to Inverness, left Melness; but they had not proceeded far, when they were attacked, two hours after day-break, by a body of men, consisting of fifty of Lord Reay's people headed by his lordship's steward and a similar number of Lord Loudon's troops. After a short resistance, during which four or six of their men were killed and as many wounded, the whole party, consisting of 20 officers, and 120 soldiers and sailors, surrendered.

As Charles's coffers were almost exhausted at this time, the loss of such a large sum of money pressed with peculiar severity upon the army, which he had, in consequence, great difficulty in keeping together. Though sparing in his troops, the King of France had not been remiss in sending Charles pecuniary supplies, nor had the King of Spain been unmindful of him; but the remittances sent by these sovereigns did not all reach their destination, some of them having been intercepted by British cruisers on their way. Reckoning, however, the sums drawn and received from various sources, Charles must have got no inconsiderable sum; but he appears to have paid little attention to his pecuniary concerns, and a system of peculation is said to have been practised by the persons intrusted with the management, which told heavily upon his means. His principal steward in particular, to whom the administration of the finances was committed, is alleged not to have been scrupulously honest, and he is said to have contrived matters so as to prevent open detection. His underlings did not omit the opportunity which occasion offered, of filling their pockets; a system of imposition was also practised by means of false musters. Under such circumstances the early exhaustion of Charles's military chest is not to be wondered at. In this situation, seeing the impossibility of recruiting his finances at Inverness, he had resolved to return to the south country; but other circumstances induced him to forego his intention.

Judging from the unfortunate result of the siege of Stirling castle, neither Lord George Murray nor Brigadier Stapleton had any hopes of reducing Fort William, which, besides being a strong place, was regularly fortified; but, as Lochiel, Keppoch, and other chiefs, whose properties lay in its neighbourhood, were very desirous to obtain possession of a fortress which perpetually annoyed them, and the garrison of which had, during the prince's expedition into England, made frequent sallies, and burnt the houses of the country people, and carried off their cattle, they did not object to the siege.

To assist the troops under Stepleton, the Camerons and the Macdonalds of Keppoch were ordered to Fort William. Mr Grant the engineer proposed to begin the siege by erecting a battery on a small hill, called the Sugarloaf, which overlooked the fortress about 800 yards off; and as he observed that one of the bastions projected so far that it could not be defended by the fire of the first, he proposed to arrive at it by a trench and blow it up; but, while in the act of reconnoitring, he received a violent contusion from a cannonball, which completely disabled him. Brigadier Stapleton, having no other engineer, was obliged to send to Inverness for M. Mirabelle, the singular personage formerly alluded to. Meanwhile, the besieged heightened the parapets of the walls on the side where they dreaded an attack, and raised the two faces of the bastions seven feet high.

For several days a skirmishing was kept up between the garrison and two sloops of war stationed in the river, on the one side, and the besiegers on the other, with varied success; but the insurgents having completed a battery on the Sugar-loaf on March 20th, opened the siege that evening. On account of its distance from he fortress, and the smallness of the cannon, which consisted of six and four-pounders only, little execution was done. Next day the besiegers erected a new battery at the foot of the Cowhill, within half the distance of the other, which was also opened, but with little better effect. On the 22d, Brigadier Stapleton sent a drummer to Captain Scott, the commanding officer, with a letter, requiring him to surrender, but his answer was, that he would defend the place to the last extremity. The bombardment was hereupon renewed on both sides for some hours, but at last the garrison silenced the besiegers by beating down their principal battery. The besiegers then erected a third battery, and the bombardment continued, with little intermission, till the 31st, when the garrison made a sally, forced one of the batteries erected upon a place called the Craigs, about a hundred yards from the walls, and captured several pieces of cannon and two mortars. Notwithstanding this disaster, they continued to annoy the besieged from five cannon which they had still mounted, but with no other damage to the garrison than the destruction of the roofs of most of the houses. At length, on the 3d of April, Brigadier Stapleton, in consequence of instructions he had received from the prince to join him immediately, raised the siege, and after spiking his heavy cannon, marched for Inverness with the piquets, taking his field pieces along with him. He left the Highlanders behind, on the understanding that they were to follow him with as little delay as possible. The loss sustained on either side was trifling.

Abounding as the prince's enterprise did, in many brilliant points, there is, unquestionably, no part of it more deserving of admiration that that which now presents itself, near the end of his short, but very eventful career. At Gladsmuir and at Falkirk, almost the whole of the prince's energies were directed to a single point, but at Inverness he projected a number of expeditions, attacks, and sieges, and conducted them with an energy and promptitude which astonished the government. The whole force he was able to collect, after his retreat to the north, did not exceed 8,000 men; and, although there was no certainty that the Duke of Cumberland might not advance immediately from Aberdeen, which is only a hundred miles from Inverness, yet he separated his forces, and, while with one detachment he kept General Bland in check, he, almost at the same time, carried on a series of operations with the isolated parts of the army in the distant territories of Athole, Lochaber, and Sutherland.


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